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‘My concern was his safety’ Police officer on Rashan Charles restraint

Officer denies using unauthorised neck hold and combat throw on young black Londoner. Asked what was in his mind, officer says: drugs, gangs, weapons. Inquest, Day Two. 

Rashan Charles (Family)

The police officer who restrained Rashan Charles last summer was questioned yesterday at St Pancras Coroner’s Court about his actions during the fatal encounter. 

Rashan, aged 20, died after being restrained by the officer and a man described as a “member of the public” at a convenience shop in Hackney, East London. 

The officer, known in court as BX47, said he followed Rashan into the shop after seeing him exit a car in the early hours of the morning of 22 July 2017. 

In CCTV footage shown to the court Rashan walks into the shop, followed a few seconds later by BX47. The officer grabs Rashan from behind, turns him and walks him down a narrow aisle to the front of the shop. Then he pushes Rashan against an ice-cream chest freezer, puts an arm around his neck and shoulders and throws him to the ground. 

Witness 1 and police officer BX47 handcuff Rashan Charles on the floor of a Hackney convenience store, Saturday 22 July 2017

Coroner Mary Hassell asked the police officer what he was trying to do when he threw Rashan to the ground. He replied that he had used a type of restraint known to police as a “seat belt hold” or “reverse take down” to “better control” Rashan. 

“Looking back, do you think that the reverse take down was appropriate?” the coroner asked.

“Yes,” he replied. “My priority was getting control of him. I was struggling to do so while standing.” 

Why did BX47 follow Rashan?

The court heard that BX47 belonged to an elite group of specially-trained police officers known as Territorial Support Group (TSG). He received regular high-level training in public order and crisis situations.This training included the range of approved methods for restraining a person resisting arrest. 

Before going out into a London borough, Territorial Support Group patrols are given an intelligence briefing on the locality. On the night of Rashan’s death BX47 had been deployed to Hackney. Jude Bunting, the lawyer representing Rashan’s mother and grandmother, told the court that the Hackney briefing attended by BX47 included specific intelligence on wanted individuals. Bunting said Rashan Charles was not one of them. 

Under questioning, BX47 told the court that he did not know Rashan, had not met him before pursuing him that day, and did not recognise anyone in the car Rashan was in.

A combat throw to the ground

Bunting asked which part of his training did BX47 draw on once he had hold of Rashan and just before he threw him to the ground, adding that one principle was to avoid taking a person to ground unless you are confident you can control them. It had to be a controlled take down. Yet BX47 had omitted that step.

The officer replied that he thought he could control Rashan from the ground more easily. He denied missing out the step and said that before throwing Rashan down, “I first took hold of his arms.” 

Referring to the police training manual used by Territorial Support Group trainers Bunting described the correct procedure for “reverse take down” which involves communicating verbally with the person being arrested, holding them by the shoulders and guiding them to the floor while safeguarding their head. Bunting asked BX47 to compare the correct procedure with the CCTV of his encounter with Rashan.

He is not escorted to the ground, he is thrown with force.“He is not escorted to the ground, he is thrown with force,” Bunting said. “When you landed on the ground your hand was around his throat. Would you agree that this was not the rear take down we can see in the training manual? This was a neck hold and combat throw down?”

BX47 said: “No.” He insisted that he had used the correct restraint and that he did not put his hand on Rashan’s throat. 

In response to further questioning about the type of restraint used, BX47 said: “I believe that he was trying to put his hands to his mouth,” adding that he was focused on gaining “control” of Rashan and stopping the movement of his hands. 

The jury was shown CCTV of what happened after Rashan was thrown to the ground, and then footage with sound from BX47’s body worn camera. The officer can be heard shouting: “Spit out, spit it out.” 

He told the court that he believed Rashan had something in his mouth and that he applied pressure between “where the lower jaw meets the upper jaw, which would normally make the mouth open”. In the body worn camera footage Rashan is wriggling beneath BX47, who holds him down, leaning over him. 

A ‘member of the public’ intervenes

A second man, dressed in jeans and a jumper, joined in the restraint. Described by police as a “member of the public”, he must be known only as Witness 1. (Last November the coroner granted anonymity to two police officers and two witnesses — including the men who restrained Rashan: BX47, and Witness 1.)

Rashan Charles (Family)

Bunting asked BX47 if he knew Witness 1. No, he said. Bunting asked if knew whether Witness 1 had any experience in such situations. BX47 did not answer directly. Instead, he replied: “I never met him before.”

CCTV showed Witness 1 and BX47 handcuffing Rashan as he lay face down. Rashan appears to stop moving. In footage from the body worn camera that was positioned just below BX47’s left shoulder, Rashan’s mouth, lips and neck look faintly off-colour. 

‘He’s just putting it on

The coroner and lawyer for Rashan’s family took BX47 through the footage, attempting to estabish when exactly it became clear to him that Rashan was unwell. 

BX47 watched the footage of Rashan on the ground, handcuffed with the two men restraining him, Witness 1 says, “He’s just putting it on.” Officer BX47 says, “No he’s not.”

Coroner Mary Hassell asked BX47: “At this point are you concerned by now?”

BX47 said: “The whole way through I was concerned.” 

In the footage, Witness 1 and BX47 ask Rashan to open his mouth. One of them says: “There’s something in his mouth.” BX47 tells Rashan to breathe. Witness 1 pinches Rashan’s nose. In court BX47 said he didn’t see Witness 1 do this at the time. Witness 1 holds Rashan’s mouth. The coroner said: “Can you tell me what that’s about?”  BX47 replied: “No, I can’t remember.”

The coroner said that Rashan appears to be unconscious in the footage when Witness 1 and BX47 are restraining him and asking him to open his mouth. 

“By now are you not thinking that Rashan might have lost consciousness?” she asked. 

“I was not sure,” said BX47.

The coroner said that looking at the screen one interpretation would be that Rashan had lost consciousness.

BX47 said that he conducted a breathing test and believed Rashan was still breathing. He said he thought he could see Rashan clenching his teeth. 

Would you agree that he looked terrified?

On body worn camera footage shown to the court, roughly one minute and 30 seconds into the restraint Rashan makes a noise, like a whimper or murmur. A close up of his face shows his eyes wide and staring. For Rashan’s family, Bunting asked BX47: “Would you agree that he looked terrified?”

BX47 said: “I don’t know. His eyes were looking wide.” He added that he did not recall seeing signs of Rashan’s distress. His said his eye level was slightly different to the body worn footage shown to the court. 

Bunting suggested to BX47 that the reason he tells Rashan to “breathe” is because “you were concerned that he was not breathing?”

“No,” the officer replied.

Bunting asked BX47 if he agreed that Rashan shows no signs of acknowledging him. 

BX47 agreed.

Signs of choking?

Bunting asked: “How could Rashan remove anything from his mouth when he was handcuffed? How could he stop himself from choking? How could he talk?” 

BX47 said he didn’t think Rashan was choking. He said he couldn’t see any signs that Rashan was choking. The choking signs he would look for would be “coughing, struggling to breathe, visibly choking”. 

Bunting suggested to BX47 that his training had prepared him for identifying and dealing with a medical emergency. He said that during the restraint BX47 was attempting to conduct a “search by mouth”, something that should only be done with multiple police officers. 

“At that point I’m trying to get whatever is in his mouth out for his safety,” BX47 said. “It was not about searching. My concern was primarily about his safety.” 

My concern was primarily about his safety.

Bunting referred again to the police training manual. He said that if a person had something in their mouth the protocol was to call an ambulance immediately: “You felt that there was something in his mouth” and yet didn’t call an ambulance immediately. “Would you agree?”

BX47 agreed.

Throughout questioning BX47 maintained that he thought Rashan had something in his mouth or was attempting to put something in his mouth. Bunting reminded him that suspected swallowing of concealed drugs should be considered a medical emergency, so why did he not treat Rashan as a medical emergency?

BX47 replied: “Not initially. There was a lot going on. I was trying to look at what the situation was.” He added that he put Rashan on his side as that was the best method to “aid his breathing”. 

Bunting said the reason BX47 had had such extensive training was because the use of restraint poses serious risks. He suggested that the officer didn’t follow protocol because “you were panicking”. He asked, “Do you agree you lost control?” 

“I wouldn’t say I completely lost control of the situation, no,” said the officer.

Counsel for the police

Following a break, Neil Saunders, the lawyer representing BX47, and John Beggs QC, representing the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, questioned the officer.

John Beggs QC elicited that BX47 was with a patrol of six officers in Hackney that morning. While driving towards Hoxton in south Hackney, the patrol became suspicious of a small car at a set of traffic lights after seeing the driver’s indicator light switched direction “at least” three times. When, later, Rashan left the vehicle, BX47 left the patrol vehicle to pursue him on foot. 

Beggs suggested to BX47 that he chased Rashan Charles because of the “behaviour of the vehicle from which he emerged” which “on at least three occasions changed directions in apparent reaction to your carrier” an obvious police vehicle. 

To each suggestion BX47 answered: “Yes”.  

Beggs added that the time of day, it was around 1.45am, was another factor. 

“Yes,” BX47 agreed.

In the officer’s mind: drugs, gangs, weapons

Beggs then asked BX47 what he thought Rashan would have been doing in that area at that time? BX47 responded that he thought “people” would be “out to sell drugs or involved in some sort of gang activity”. He added that there could have been weapons or drugs in the car.  

Neil Saunders, representing BX47, asked his client if he saw Rashan put anything his mouth when he followed him into the shop? 

BX47 said no, that he saw Rashan raise an arm. He said his first thought was to get control of Rashan’s arms to prevent him reaching for anything such as a weapon.

“What sort of weapon would you have in mind that night?” Saunders asked.

BX47 said he thought a knife. 

Saunders went over the restraint used and BX47 repeated that he was trying to get control of Rashan’s arms and stop him putting his hands to his mouth. 

Was BX47 ever sure that Rashan had swallowed anything? Saunders asked.

The officer replied: “No, not until later on when the object was pulled out.”

Saunders said that during the body worn camera footage Witness 1 can be heard telling Rashan: “Stop biting my fingers!” He asked BX47 why this was significant. “The fact that he would be biting would make me think that he was not unconscious,” BX47 replied.

Saunders asked BX47 if he thought any harm was being done to Rashan. BX47 said: “No”. 

“Were you under the impression that everything being done was to assist Mr Charles?” Saunders asked,

“Yes,” said BX47.

Once the lawyers had finished questioning BX47, the coroner asked the jury if they had questions for the officer. They had one. The coroner read it out: “Did you see Rashan trying to bite Witness 1’s fingers?”

“No,” said BX47. 

The inquest continues. 

 


 

Edited by Clare Sambrook for Shine A Light.

About the author

Rebecca Omonira-Oyekanmi is a reporter, editor & writer. Co-edits Shine a Light. Writer in residence for Lacuna magazine. Twice shortlisted for Orwell Prize. Winner of Scottish Refuge Council media award and Write to End Violence Against Women award. Tweets @Rebecca_Omonira

 

 

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